December 2012


I’ve just discovered it can snow on my blog until 4 January.  It’s irresistible!

So I took Boxing Day off as well as Christmas Day, and went back to work yesterday by reading Robert Hutchinson’s biography of Thomas Cromwell.  I can’t say I was impressed, not least because I came across three of my pet hate ‘must have’s (that is, “s/he must have thought/been/looked etc”) by the bottom of page 2.  Still, it served a purpose: mainly, to provide me with the factual background on Thomas Cromwell that I need (I ignored the gloss about his venality and corruption) in a format I could read quickly (I got through the book in just over a day).

Today I went back to analysing and categorising the ballads.  I think I have nearly finished that particular exercise, and then I need to work out exactly what is going to be most appropriate for each chapter. That’s the scary bit.  However, as we’ve all had the flu-lurgy over Christmas, and it’s not shifting quickly, I’m taking it fairly slowly and I think I’ll go back to a bit of secondary reading tomorrow, mainly because it requires less concentrated effort.  I’m very much looking forward to going back to writing in a big way soon.

I’m taking a break from the madness to say merry Christmas. I have a house full of family, five children playing games together on my living room floor; lots of food on the table and a kitchen full of cooking smells. Christmas, it seems, starts here.

I’m sorry, I’ve got to say this: It’s twaddle.

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on pre-conquest Latin American culture and the impact of the Spaniards, particularly on the Aztecs, but they believed that the world had ‘ages’ and no Mayan said the world as a whole would end tonight. Apart from which, whose ‘midnight’ are we talking about? And isn’t ‘midnight’ a very convenient time considering that they didn’t have clocks…?

GIANTmicrobes | Brain Cell (Neuron).

If anyone should feel a wish to buy me  a last minute Christmas present, this would be perfect.  I have a ‘brain cell’ mug that I’ve had since I was an undergraduate, and this would be its perfect postgraduate companion.

I decided at lunchtime today that I’m stopping now for Christmas.  I’ve still got all the presents to wrap and a lot of sorting out to do before my Christmas visitors arrive, so having got my last self-imposed deadline out of the way yesterday, I am going to give myself some time off.  I may possibly do a bit of reading, but nothing heavy going and no actual research.

Yesterday I spent four hours discussing the finer points of a set of several political ballads. It was really, really good fun, and very productive.  It’s given me so much to go on too.  A good place to finish I think, so that I’ve got something I’m ready to start on in the new year, full of enthusiasm.

So merry Christmas one and all.

Yesterday, rather unexpectedly, I sat down and started writing again.  I was overcome with an urge to sest my thoughts down on paper (well, computer screen) as I read the first publication in a ballad flyting from 1540.  I wrote down what I thought about it, how I interpreted it and the background to is as I read it, and very fulfilling it was too.  In a couple of hours in an afternoon, I wrote almost 1000 words. Whether or not any of them make it to the final cut, or even into the chapter I present for my next panel in January, remains to be seen, but it felt good.  Really good.  And I’m itching to get back to it again.  I feel like I could easily pour out 8000 words on this flyting alone.  Of course, I need an angle, and a sense of where it fits in with everything else, but I’m finding it fascinating and fulfilling at the same time.  I’m happy.

Most of this week I have spent analysing the extant sixteenth century ballads.  I have a big spreadsheet with the names of the ballads in one column and all sorts of topics and features listed across the top.   I have comments in some of the boxes, and others are just ticked off.  It’s a slow and painstaking process, but it’s fun.  Every now and again a little gem turns up, some of which I’ve posted here, and sometimes there are things that I spot that I think are really exciting.  It’s great.  Then today, I came down with the lurgy.  I have a headache, catarh and I’m either freezing cold or sweating.  So I retreated to the sofa with several blankets and a copy of the Oxford History of Print Culture.    I’m not at all sure about some of the arguments put forward in it.  For example, I’m not at all sure that I agree with Angela McShane’s belief that ballads didn’t spread the news.  I don’t think you can divorce news from commentary in the period, and I find it difficult to understand how her argument for the seventeenth century transposes back to the sixteenth when there were no newspapers.

Yesterday I went in to the university, where I had a long discussion about the Cromwell ballad flyting with my supervisor, over a very nice pot of tea. Definitely the way forward for supervision meetings.  After that I went to the library and picked up a few books, then had some lunch with some of my fellow postgrads.  Unfortunately, one of them is leaving.  He’s had enough.  As he said, what’s the point in carrying on when you look at your source material and think ‘Who cares?’ 

This is an interesting blog post, and confirms something I had long suspected. There is another angle that the author hasn’t considered – the need for academics in some fields to travel for long periods to conduct primary research is hardly conducive to a ‘normal’ family life.

I already have my children. In fact, if it weren’t for them I probably wouldn’t be doing a PhD at all – it was the (extended) career break I took to look after them that gave me the time to think about what I wanted to do. Not so much what I wanted to do with my life, but what I wanted to do for me after giving 9 years of my life completely to them.

As for a desire to spawn, I never had one either. It’s amazing how much being told that if you leave it any longer you may not be ABLE to have children suddenly concentrates the mind. And before you think that it was my biological clock ticking, I’m only 37 now and my eldest is 10. Prior to that I had a miscarriage, so I had to consider potential infertility at 25.

I have found that although my fellow students are deeply respectful of the fact that I have returned to university to pursue a self-funded research degree while simultaneously running a 5 person family and servicing a mortgage, some of the staff are not. There is an assumption by some people (and particularly, I’m afraid some female staff) that because I have been at home looking after my children, I am a housewife and that’s all I’m capable of. In many respects I would say that being a housewife is the single most important thing I have done, although I would re-define it as being a mother. Any impact that my research has on society will be dwarfed by the impact that my children have on society merely by existing.

Being a stay at home mum; a mature student; a childless academic; marriage, children and tenure: they are all equally valid life choices, as long as they are gone into for the right reasons.

On mornings when I wonder why I do this (and frankly, this was one of them), it’s things like this that remind me.  Simply beautiful.

The Four Seasons – Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts.

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